‘Fake News,’ conspiracy theory facts, salesman facts, politician facts, personal experience facts, in fact, any facts are not sacrosanct. They are subject to interpretation, pejorative evaluation, dismissed with prejudice, distorted, and otherwise abused to the point that a fact is an indisputable fact only in few circumstances. For the record, Merriam-Webster says:
1 a : something that has actual existence ·space exploration is now a fact
b : an actual occurrence ·prove the fact of damage
2 : a piece of information presented as having objective reality ·These are the hard facts of the case.
3 : the quality of being actual : actuality ·a question of fact hinges on evidence
4 : a thing done: such as
a : crime ·accessory after the fact
b: archaic : action
c obsolete : feat
5 archaic : performance, doing
— in fact
In the day, a fact was straight forward: did it work or didn’t it; my daughter’s name is Elizabeth; how much does it cost, etc. Then, however, there weren’t many facts to fathom – just what made the day work. There were times when one would have their guard up, e.g., listening to politicians, salesmen, the neighborhood gossip, even on occasion the preacher. These distortions are part of human nature; who among us hasn’t used hyperbole to make a point instead of laying out detailed, factual information. Distortion is an important affect when speaking a fact. The fact can be expressed as less significant than it may be or more so simply by changing one’s tone. Expression may imply how important a fact is or conversely how insignificant a fact is without changing the fact.
What is different in the current world is that we are overcome by facts. Compared to the day when most facts were found in the neighborhood, today’s facts are from all over the world, from every culture, from every scientific and educational subject, from every strain of historical events, from 12 billion humans – and that’s just for one day. That’s a lotta yotta (1024) – many more facts than we can handle.
Meaningful, verifiable facts tend to be local if not firsthand. An astronaut riding in the space station can verify first hand that the world is in fact a sphere. Yet a flat earth advocate, using their own collection of facts, would disagree. A friend of the mariner, not a sailor, sailed with mariner during a heavy downpour with dramatic thunder and lightning. He believed absolutely that we were going to sink and was visibly disturbed. We didn’t sink and were never in danger of sinking but there’s no doubt that sinking was a fact to the friend. Mistakenly, he credits mariner’s extraordinary sailing skills as the reason we did not sink (of course mariner softly demurred but let the credit stand).
What these examples expose is that facts don’t always represent truth. A fact may be a fact but may not reflect an implied truth. A simple example was given on national news a few days ago when Donald discussed pardons for some political individuals who had been found guilty and, considering he already had pardoned Sheriff Arpaio (charged with abusive, racist treatment of jailed Mexicans), seemed self-serving. Doris Kearns Goodwin was interviewed and made the point that past Presidents had issued pardons to unify the attitude of citizens and avoid unpleasant moments that otherwise would linger. Donald’s use of pardons deliberately set citizen attitudes further apart. However, as a fact, a pardon is a pardon.
Not wanting to burden the reader with other elements (opinion, ulterior motive, greed, prejudice and other ‘soft’ arguments for truth), we are left with the chore of validating facts before we assign value to them. No one wants to add investigative time or delay when gathering facts or truths. But the truth is that facts are so voluminous and still so important that our gut feeling truthometer is defective. Here are some tools to fathom genuine truth as opposed to Stephen Colbert’s acceptance of ‘truthiness.’
Focus on both sides of an issue. Our gut truthometer really, really wants to see only one side.
Search for sources that are more dependable for presenting facts and truths. This is a shortcut to having to search two sides of an issue. For example, PBS Nightly News may be more responsible to identify facts and truths than Rush Limbaugh. Still, you are responsible for the quality of any information.
Read. Mariner knows many people don’t want to read but these are critical times. Daily newspapers still have reasonable op-ed information; read more than one widely distributed magazine; if you have a computer with Internet access, sign up for free emails from well-known magazines and legitimately educational websites.
Every once in a blue moon, attend a city council meeting just for the heck of it or a political event where you can get free barbeque.
Donate to a cause. Cash, labor, or just hang out to see how things work. This helps immensely in sharpening your skills at interpreting facts and truths. Otherwise, there may be whole areas of important facts and truths that may not reach you through normal channels.
Mariner hopes this helps. It is a huge task these days to know what’s really going on outside the neighborhood.